Ken Glah and Jan Wanklyn live in a quaint brick twin in West Chester, Pa., outside Philadelphia, with a cozy front porch, an elaborate playhouse in the backyard, and a swimming pool in the basement.
This is no kiddie pool. It's about as long and wide as one of those monster SUVs, and it's deep enough in the middle for a 6-footer to stand up underwater.
What's neat about the Endless Pool is that it comes alive. Push a button and turn a dial and the water begins roiling and churning, and within seconds the pool turns into a stretch of rapids on the Colorado River. OK, it's more like the wake of a cigarette boat.
It's called a "counter-current pool" or a "stationary swimming machine." Think of it as an aquatic treadmill. Instead of having to swim hundreds of laps at the local Y, making turns every 25 or 50 meters, bumping into splashing kids, marinating in eau de chlorine, you can swim in your own private tank in a continuous straight line for as long as you wish.
"I love it," says Wanklyn; who uses the pool three of four times a week. "Especially after a long day, it's so convenient."
When Wanklyn talks about a long day, she does not mean hours spent in front of a computer in some stuffy, fluorescent-lit office. She's talking about a hundred-mile bike ride, followed by a 10-mile run.
Wanklyn and her husband, Ken, are world-class triathletes. Their day job is to run, bike and swim. Wanklyn, 41, an Aussie with a radiant smile and the body fat of a greyhound, has won Ironman triathlons in Australia, New Zealand and Europe.
As for the 35-year-old Glah, he has competed in well over 30 Ironman triathlons, including 15 Hawaii Ironmans, the Super Bowl of the sport. In 1988, he finished third in Hawaii. He usually places in the top 10. An Ironman features a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run.
If you live in West Chester (not know for its lakes and balmy winters), and your livelihood depended in part on being able to swim 2.4 miles, often in choppy seas, in 50 minutes or so, you could understand why having an aquatic treadmill in your basement would be mighty nice.
Wanklyn typically swims in the Endless Pool for a half hour, the equivalent of just over a mile, at a clip that gets her heart pumping hard, her body into a brisk rhythm and her mind into the zone. Mounted on the bottom is an angled mirror that enables her to study her form and refine her technique.
"It's great feedback for what you're doing underwater," she says. "In swimming, technique is critical. If your stroke is not efficient, you'll exhaust yourself quickly. The real power comes from rotating your hips."
Glah uses the pool not only to train for the swimming portion of the triathlon but also for cardio workouts. Wearing a flotation vest, he'll run in place, giving his aching joints and muscles a break after too much pounding on pavement.
This particular pool is made by a Philadelphia-area firm, Endless Pools of Aston, Pa. It comes in kit form and is "not much more than a large Erector set," said company exec Chris Wackman. About a third of the people who buy the pools install them themselves-in basements and garages, on porches, patios and decks.
Since 1988, Endless Pools has sold about 20,000 stationary swimming machines, mostly to residential customers, all over the country and the world. Many are avid recreational swimmers who want to continue after cold weather sets in. Increasingly, aging baby boomers, having hammered their bodies jogging and doing step aerobics, are buying them to enjoy the kinder, gentler benefits of aquatic exercise, Wackman says.
The outer dimensions of the pool are 8 by 15 feet-just right for your under-used and largely ceremonial living room. The standard model is 39 inches deep. The parts fit through a 2-foot-wide door so you won't have to tear out a wall.
The tank is formed of bolted-together galvanized steel panels and lined first with a felt liner, then a double-thick vinyl liner. The propeller is powered hydraulically, which means there's no motor inside the pool to electrocute you.
The force of the current is adjustable. At its max, it requires you to swim fast enough to cover 100 meters in a minute and eight seconds. Ken installed the pool himself, he even dug the hole for the deepest section. It was his winter project one year, an Ironman's idea of recreation and relaxation!